Hi Everybody,

Before we started our conversation on success, we did a review and practice of “small talk” which is basically casual conversation, something that “breaks the ice” or fills in awkward silence between people. The number 1 topic of small talk is the weather , it’s “safe” and we are all aware of weather.Related image

Small talk is usually used when we are waiting for something, like a bus, train or subway. Or while we are waiting on line in the grocery store, or waiting in line at the movies or a concert or at a restaurant. We use small talk at parties, weddings, and other social gatherings. We use it when we are in an elevator or in our apartment buildings with our neighbors. We also small talk with our mailman, when we see him.

Some topics we try to avoid are politics, religion, and other personal, sensitive topics. Here’a a exercise we did about small talk, take another look to review some topics.

Today’s topic of conversation was success. Image result for success video by lara leeWe often think about success as power, status, prestige, wealth, confidence, achievement, accomplishment, happiness, and fame.

But, we added the intangible elements to success like having a dream, sharing with others, and love. Take a look at this short video from the film, Fame, in which a student describes what success means to her.

After watching we discussed this idea of the emotion or feeling aspect of success and that maybe this student was just naive in her view of success.  After some more discussion on the societal views of success and our own personal views and experiences we watched this short video on success. Take another look here :

After watching we discussed the ideas that the narrator discusses and how we felt about them. Here is the transcript of the video , so you can read along as you watch it. We talked about how traditional male and female roles are changing, and that certain countries and certain environments view success differently. We agreed that success is personal and unique to each of us.

Thanks for your thoughts, ideas, and participation today! See you next week!

Special Event –  see our classmate, Graziela Medori, sing in concert this Thursday , February 23rd at 4:00 p.m. at the Berk Recital Hall at Berklee School of Music, 1140 Boylston Street, here are the details.


Amor Vincit Omnia

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!

Die gantz Welt in ein Klebenblat by Heinrich Bunting (on display at the Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library)

Yesterday we had a tour of the map library with librarian, Michelle LeBlanc. Michelle showed us the current exhibit of maps depicting Shakespeare’s plays. One of the maps, which was on the floor in the entryway, showed Romeo and Juliet in Verona! (how perfect on Valentine’s Day!!) Michelle also explained some very old historic maps of Boston, before there was an airport or Back Bay. Please check out the map library’s website here and you can explore all the great treasures of the map worldRelated image

After our map library tour we got down to the business of Valentine’s Day.  Statistics indicate that the most common place to meet a long term partner is at work. Image result for happy valentine's day

So, we looked at two romantic stories that involved people falling in love at work. These two stories are very different with the first one, Post-It Love, which is about two very shy co-workers who communicate with one another in a very unusual, but, effective way!

Take a look at the video here:

After watching we talked about this “office romance” and our own personal experiences. Next we listened to the romantic story of Ruben and Rachel Salazar, who met each other because of a typo in an email, even though they lived 8,000 miles apart. Here’s the link to their true story A Typo Spells Romance for RP Salazars , so you can listen again.

Rachel and Ruben were married after they spent a little over a week together, but, we agreed that this was a very sweet and romantic story. To wrap everything up, we discussed the phrase  love conquers all (or in Latin, amor vincit omnia). Certainly love conquered shyness in Post-It Love and conquered distance, different cultures, and an on-line romance in Ruben and Rachel’s story.

Thanks for all your thoughts, ideas, and contributions to yesterday’s conversation!

Image result for love conquers all and amor vincit omnia


Hi Everyone,

Today was the exciting rolling rally for the Patriots 5th Super Bowl win!!!

We started off today with a discussion of qualities we would like a romantic partner to have using abstract nouns –  bravery, compassion, confidence, enthusiasm, generosity, honesty, hope, humor, independence, intelligence, kindness, loyalty, optimism, patience, strength, sympathy, tolerance, trustworthiness, and more.  This led us to the abstract noun, beauty, which was today’s topic of conversation.

How do we define beauty? What makes a person beautiful? Is beauty an idea? Does money influence our idea of beauty?  We agreed that beauty is personal and subjective and can be found everywhere. We are bombarded with beauty ideals in fashion magazines, in the media, on the internet, all over our social, psychological, physical and cultural lives. Image result for beauty in print media

We talked about our obsession with appearance and how it affects us and our society. We seem to care less about what’s inside a person, and focus on the outside.


We watched this video of “Try” by singer Colbie Caillat , which basically encourages women to not try so hard and just be yourself .

Next we talked about self image and how it relates to our lives. “Image is powerful, but, image is superficial” says fashion model, Cameron Russell. We watched this TED talk by Cameron and she describes her experience as a fashion model and reveals some personal insights into her world.

After watching we discussed Cameron’s thoughts on image as perceived through her beauty and some injustices and concerns she has experienced. She encourages  people to live “real” lives, as she changes her outfit in the first 10 seconds of her talk.

Lastly, we talked about beauty around the world. It seems like their are a lot of similarities and social pressures to look beautiful, but, at what cost? We prejudge each other based on the false impressions  of beauty. We watched this final video about The Atlas of Beauty which is a collection of pictures of women around the world and hopeful shows our individuality and diversity is celebrated.

You can see more photographs on the website here.

Thanks for all you ideas and thoughts on today’s topic!

Image result for beauty quote

Food Choices

Hi Everyone,

Today we talked about food choices we make and why we make them. We started off with a look at 7 healthy meals from 7 different countries around the world. Each group was given a “plate” with a photograph of a meal. The group had to describe what food was on the plate; did they think it was “healthy”; and what country was it from. Here are  a few of the “plates” and a description of why they are “healthy” and where they are from:

Variety of cheese with figs, selective focus

France ,variety of cheese with figs

Soba noodles with turnip tops and sesame seeds Delicious and healthy noodles on dark background

China, soba noodles with turnip tops and sesame seeds

Ethiopian cuisine meal sitting on a table prepared to be eaten

Ethiopia , blends of beans and vegetables










You can see the rest of the meal pictures and read the article here.

We talked about what things drive our food choices from dietary needs to what’s available in the fridge or pantry, what time it is, what the weather’s like, what can I afford, what’s healthy for me, and more.

Next we talked about what food choices people have who are on a limited income, which is difficult. This lead to our conversation about poverty and food issues. One project that takes an innovative view of food and poverty is The Poverty Line, which was created by photographer Stefen Chow and economist, Lin Hui-Yi. Image result for the poverty line projectThe body of the work is on his website  The Poverty Line.  As an artist, he combines photography + food choices + economics to create a new way to look at poverty and to bring increased awareness to the issue.

We watched this video of Stefen’s talk about the project, take a look here :

After watching we talked about what his photographs represent and what the project is all about. Lastly, we talked about programs, projects, and aid that can help people who suffer from hunger. We discussed some ideas that we can do to help with this issue, and all agreed that we hope poverty , some day, can be eliminated.

Image result for the poverty line project

Some photographs from The Poverty Line project

Thanks for your contributions to today’s conversation! See you next week.



Who We Are

Hi Everybody,

Today our conversation was about oral histories or story telling. We all have videos and tapes of events in our lives, that may mark special things like wedding, graduations, birthday parties , anniversaries and more.

Story Corps is an organization that records and saves recorded interviews of Americans all across the country. The idea is to preserve cultural, historic and personal stories for all of us. It also offers an insight into humanity. Click here to link to the Story Corps website, where you will find lots of interviews on all types of topics, that makes us who we are. We watched this short video that is about a new campaign #WhoWeAre.

Then we looked at this photo of Albert and Aidan Sykes Image result for albert and aidan sykeswho are featured in this Story Corps campaign. They are father and son and live in Mississippi. Albert, the father is 31 years old and his son Aidan is 9 years old.

In this Story Corps interview Aidan asks his father some questions about what his father thinks of him and what he wants for him. First, we listened to the interview. And after listening we talked about the content of the questions and answers. Then we talked about the style of the language – the intonation, word stress, and linking of words. We listened to it twice to help with comprehension.

Next we watched this animated video of Aidan and Albert’s interview. We agreed that watching helped us to better understand the interview. Watch it again here :

After watching we described the characters of Aidan and his father, Albert. We talked about the message of the film and how it relates to “love over hate” and “empathy over fear” . We talked about what this says about racism in America, and racism around the world.  Here is the transcript of conversation between Albert and Aidan Sykes.  Thank you all for contributing your ideas and thoughts to our conversation!!

Lastly, we talked about what we would talk about if we did interviews on Story Corps. Some of your ideas included topics on American politics; women’s equality; and friendship and peace.

We had some extra time, and since it was cloudy and rainy outside, we watched these 2 short videos from Story Corps. The first is about an extraordinary act of kindness from Ron Ruiz, a  bus driver in New York City. Watch it here :

Lastly, we watched this video about Julio Diaz, who was robbed at knife point and what he did next:

So, these videos show us ordinary people doing extraordinary acts, while demonstrating “love over hate” and “empathy over fear”.

I hope you have some time to explore the Story Corps website and listen to some more videos to help with your English, and to give you some inspiration!


 Thanks for sharing in our conversation today.

See you next week.



Thinking Outside The Box

Hi Everyone,

Today we discussed the phrase “thinking outside the box” which refers to an innovative, independent, and alternative way to process information, create ideas, and solve problems.Related image

We looked at a couple of social scenarios and discussed how we would solve the problem. Most of us approach problem solving analytically and want to get a solution. We also used creativity to reach solutions to problems.

So, thinking is a mental activity we use to make decisions, create plans, form opinions and ideas, and solve problems. We discussed two types of thinking – convergent thinking and divergent thinking. Here’s a graphic of convergent and divergent thinking and right and left brain . Basically,  convergent thinking is inward and divergent thinking is outward.Image result for divergent thinking vs convergent thinking

To use our thinking skills we looked at an image of a simple paper clipImage result for paper clip and brainstormed all the uses we could think of – we came up with some practical uses and some crazy uses.

Then we did the same thing with a cardboard box.

Image result for simple cardboard box

We found lots of uses for these two simple, everyday, common items!

We watched this film “The Adventures of a Cardboard Box” about a boy who uses divergent thinking with a cardboard box. Take another look here:

After watching we all agreed that this boy was very innovative and creative with the cardboard box. The film also shows the box as the boy’s friend. Some felt that the boy could be creative with almost anything – a bag, bottle, etc. and that the film suggests that even though the box is gone at the end of the film, the boy’s creativity and powerful use of divergent thinking will last forever.

Lastly, we took an island adventure and used our thinking skills to select certain pieces of equipment to survive on an island, after our boat gets hit with lightning and sinks. Great job everyone, now give your brains a rest!!

Thanks for all your thoughts, ideas, and contributions to today’s conversation!Image result for thinking outside the box

See you next week!

Modern Families

Hi Everyone,

Today we discussed families and family relationships.Image result for families

We started off with a short clip from the ABC TV show Desperate Houswives. In this short clip, a husband comes home at the end of the day and immediately we can sense some tension between the husband and his wife. She seems angry with him about another woman, and to get back at him serves him a very hot cup of cocoa. He asks about her day but is really not listening to her. This is a typical scene in any home.

Then we looked at family related vocabulary and discussed the relationships in families, take another look here family related vocabulary worksheet.

Then we discussed modern families, which can be complex, with divorce and alternative arrangements. We discussed what do children and their parents fight about from bad behavior to eating and sleeping habits. We talked about our childhood and our own secret hiding places, closets, forts and tents that were special to us. Image result for penelope in the treehouseThe we watched and discussed this video Penelope In The Treehouse, which is about a blended family with step-parents and step-brothers and sisters. Penelope has a tough time adjusting to her new family and decides to take on her own journey. (This is a picture of Penelope’s treehouse.)

Watch the video here and you can see that Penelope recognizes the love her family has for her, and that with time, they can all love and appreciate one another.

Thanks for all your thoughts and contributions to today’s conversation! See you all next week!

2016 News Wrap Up And Empathy

Hi Everyone,Image result for happy new year 2017

Hope you all had a great holiday and thanks for coming out on this very rainy and drab day. We started off today with Merriam Webster’s 2016 Word of the Year  – surreal. This adjective is used to describe things that are unusual, weird, bizarre, and dream like. It was the most searched word, according to Merriam Webster, and certainly; described many event that happened in 2016!! We discussed some of the things we thought were surreal and then reviewed some news events of 2016. We had two sets of news events – A & B. Here are the questions for A News Quiz 2016 A and here are the  Answers Quiz A. Here are the questions for B News Quiz 2016 B and here are the Answers Quiz B. We discussed how we felt about 2016 and some events and moments that we experienced.

Then we moved on to today’s conversation which was based on the short film, We’ve All Been There. This film shows how people react when they need help and how we help one another. We looked at some screen shots from the film and tried to guess what might happen in the film, and described the people in the scenes. Take a look at the film here:

After watching we discussed what happened in the film and what the message was. The film shows us something that is more than sympathy , it’s empathy. Empathy is a feeling of connection for someone and awareness of what they are going through and how they are feeling.Image result for empathy It is a very powerful and beautiful word.

We talked about the meaning of “what goes around comes around”, and gave some examples of where we see this in out own lives and in life in general.


Thanks for your contributions, thoughts, and ideas on our conversation today!




Hi Everyone,

Yesterday we had a lot of stuff to do – “stuff” meaning things.

We watched this video about a guy who had stuff to do, but, avoided doing most of it!

We noted some of things this guy did and then discussed the notion of procrastination. We had lots of ways to describe procrastination, but, agreed that it is simply avoiding doing something. We all procrastinate by checking emails, watching tv, checking facebook, instagram, twitter….

We took a look at this image which is from a video “Procrastination” and identified the activities .Image result for procrastination by johnny kelly

Then we watched the video and listened to the over 30 things that can be done to procrastinate.

Take another look at the video here and see if you do some of these things when you procrastinate.

Well from reading a book to taking a nap to doodling to watering a plant, we all found something we do too! We talked about the end of the video where they talk about “not being able to decide what way to do something;     over complicating things for your self;      being afraid to finish something;       not knowing when to finish something;     not knowing how to finish something”. 

Procrastination can be a good thing because it allows us to de-stress from a situation or project. It also allows us to relax and refresh if we are facing something difficult.

So, then we took a few minutes and came up with some tips we would offer someone to try to beat procrastination. Some of you suggested making lists ; prioritizing ; keep it simple; and working with a partner.

Lastly, we talked about resolutions we usually make on New Year’s and if we really keep them or not, or just procrastinate getting them done!! We agreed that by March or April we’ve usually forgotten all about our New Year’s resolutions! Oh well!Image result for new years resolutions

Happy New Year’s Everyone.  Thanks For A Great 2016.

If you are going to be in Boston for New Year’s Eve check out  Boston’s First Night Celebration Schedule  and have fun!

Image result for boston's first night 2017Image result for boston's first night 2017

Image result for boston's first night 2017


Hi Everyone,

Welcome to our Tuesday afternoon classes! Today we began with a discussion of fate and destiny. These two words are often used  interchangeably in casual conversation. According to Merriam-Webster’s Learners Dictionary:

fate (noun) :1 [noncount] : a power that is believed to control what happens in the future           :2 [count] : the things that will happen to a person or thing : the future that    someone or something will have

destiny (noun) : 1 [count] : what happens in the future : the things that someone or something will experience in the future                                                                                                                            :2 [noncount] : a power that is believed to control what happens in the futureImage result for fate and destiny

Well, we brainstormed our ideas on fate and destiny and had a lively debate on what fate and destiny are and what are the differences and similarities. We also realized how difficult and complex fate and destiny really are. To help us out some more with this topic, we looked at the following quotes about fate and destiny and their meanings and if we agreed or not. Take a look at the quotes again here.

Next we watched this clip from the movie Serendipity, a romantic comedy that is all about fate and destiny and love.

 In this movie clip we see Sara and Jonathan who meet by fate and later discover they are attracted to each other by destiny. Sara and Jonathan go to an ice cream shop called Serendipity and decide that this word means fortunate accidents , lucky discoveries.  So, now we need to figure out what does serendipity mean?? According to Merriam-Webster’s Learners Dictionary 

serendipity (noun) :  luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for

The word serendipity was introduced by Horace Walpole in 1754 after he wrote a fairy tale called “The Three Prince of Serendip”. “Serendip” was the former name of Sri Lanka and in the story the characters make discoveries of things they are not looking for. Hence, the word serendipity was born! Image result for three princes of serendip

We talked about where we find serendipitous events in our lives – relationships, meeting friends, finding jobs, travelling to places, shopping, cooking, browsing in the library, and lots more. But, technology has changed serendipity, some of the changes are good and some are not. Take another look at Lenny Rachitsky”s talk on “Losing Serendipity” .

Lenny defines serendipity as “the effect by which one accidentally stumbles upon something fortunate, especially while looking for something unrelated”. So, are we losing serendipity?

 I guess we can summarize that fate is chance; destiny is choice; and serendipity is destiny with a sense of humor!Image result for serendipity

                                        Thanks for participating today, hope you find some serendipity!                                                            See you next week.